Had offensive-minded wing, Jabari Parker, not been born in Chicago and tore his left ACL twice, he would still likely be a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. However, the former second-overall pick shed his draft-day uniform to don his hometown colors of black and red, as a member of the Bulls. What ensues is a strange but artful calculus for those in the 414 area code, as two wings, Parker and Shabazz Muhammad, have been supplanted by two bigs: the steal amongst players signed via the bi-annual exception, Brook Lopez, and floor-spacing extraordinaire, Ersan Ilyasova.
Both players have high pedigrees with plentiful experience, having played for a combined eight franchises, including Milwaukee, who drafted Ilyasova in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft. Ilyasova’s game may translate the best out of this off-season’s free agent pool for Mike Budenholzer, who coached the Turkish stretch four last year in Atlanta, and the Bucks, who struggled mightily to score a consistent three-point shot. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s lane-driving abilities will be complemented by Lopez, too, who turned his 10-foot jumper, a one-time career staple, into a respectable perimeter game, just two seasons ago in Brooklyn.
The two veterans might share the frontcourt with power forward Christian Wood, a G-League showstopper who has only appeared in 30 NBA games. Earlier this month, Wood suited up for the Bucks’ Summer League squad, averaging 20.4 points (which ranked seventh in the whole Las Vegas tournament), 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 rejections, shooting 55 percent — a clip that’s impressive, especially after taking into account his improved ability to stretch the floor.
If he is to make the roster – though the odds are slim, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez – the 22-year-old would be amongst the most versatile in Milwaukee’s frontcourt. A two-way contract seems increasingly improbable, as other squads, banking on his potential, continue to pursue the talents of Wood.
Elsewhere in the frontcourt rotation, Thon Maker remains a question mark, though some of his logged actions are exclamation-point worthy (or just home playoff games). John Henson has a difficult two-year, $18.3 million contract to move, which is exacerbated by his dying skillset and inability to adjust in today’s game. The front office has a date etched in its collective conscience, regarding mid-season addition Tyler Zeller: Jan. 10, which is the date his deal becomes fully guaranteed. There is a small blockade in front of Wood, and, unless Jon Horst is feeling gallant, the power forward likely won’t settle on spending any time in Oshkosh.
Still, it remains to be seen who will occupy the last roster spot on the Milwaukee Bucks’ 15-man roster. The Bucks’ decision on point guard Brandon Jennings, who survived two 10-day contracts before landing a multi-year contract in April, will come between now and Aug. 1 – the date when Jennings’ deal becomes fully guaranteed, if he isn’t waived prior to.
After drafting Donte DiVincenzo — an organizational decision that likely led the Bucks to push back Jennings’ guarantee date — Milwaukee now has six guards, excluding Xavier Munford (who will be playing on a two-way contract) and long-time member of the Bucks’ Summer League squad, Travis Trice, who received a training camp invitation earlier this week.
Jennings, who will be 29 once the regular season gets underway, averaged a solid 5.2 points and 3.1 assists last season, despite playing only 14 minutes per night. That said, upon further examination, advanced analytics proved him to be a liability, as he had a true shooting percentage of 47.8, a career-high turnover rate, all while the Bucks were outscored by nearly four points with the veteran point guard on the floor.
The team’s confidence in the high-volume shooter declined precipitously in the team’s First Round Playoff matchup against Boston, as Jennings played a mere five minutes. All signs indicate Jennings being bounced from the 414, and, while his return to the franchise made for a heartwarming story, his impact was never felt, sans a debut that yielded a near-triple-double. Jennings, the player, won’t be more than a rental for the Deer.
Another noteworthy move: former Trailblazer wing Pat Connaughton inked a two-year deal, worth slightly more than the minimum, with Milwaukee on Friday. The 25-year-old, whose first year is guaranteed, was signed with the team’s remaining portion of the mid-level exception and shot over 35 percent from behind the arc last season for Portland. He’ll provide much-needed depth and sharpshooter prowess – two things that scaled back last year, due to the injuries of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova. With Connaughton’s contract on the books for the upcoming season, the Bucks now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries.
A few players remain, courtesy of two-way contracts, which were introduced last season. Former Duke Blue Devil guard Trevon Duval, who was signed last week, is one. What’s highly probable is that Duval won’t be donning a Bucks uniform during the regular season, as his shooting mechanics are still a work in progress, though his length and athleticism may be what keep him around. The raw 19-year-old spent early July playing for the Houston Rockets’ Summer League squad, on which he averaged a modest 9.2 points, 1.8 boards and 1.6 assists, after seeing less than 17 minutes of action per night.
Another longshot to join this year’s team is Jaylen Morris, a former Atlanta Hawk and Budenholzer disciple, who has six games of NBA basketball on his resume. Xavier Munford, who is in a similar position with Morris — given that he, too, is on a two-way contract — could obstruct Morris’ chances of playing for the Deer.
Though it appears as though these mid-summer transactions should be rendered perfunctory, we must remember how the Bucks slogged through March, allowing over 111 points a night, going 8-7, stripped of backcourt depth. The slew of guards could force competition, allowing the Bucks to pick from optimum talent. Zeller, meanwhile, will stick around, being a big body who can set hard screens and rebound better than almost anyone on the team. With each passing guard deal, it seems less likely that Jason Terry will re-up with the Bucks, ending his two-year stint in the Brew City.
Jon Horst and his associates are working to bring out the best in Giannis Antetokounmpo and his game, seeking to capitalize off of a well-spaced floor, finally submerging their roster into the modern game of fluidity, while the stakes to keep the best player in franchise history heighten mercilessly.